Wild prospects: Heads in the clouds, stars in their eyes

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 9, 2012 - 1:28 AM

The 45 prospects who report Monday for development camp will cross paths with Ryan Suter and Zach Parise.

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Wild prospect Mikael Granlund (left).

Photo: Michal Kamaryt, Associated Press

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It's almost like the brain trust of the Wild intentionally concocts it this way.

Last year, on the first day of development camp, new Wild acquisitions Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi were introduced to the local media.

Now, on Monday, as a bunch of prospects sweat through fitness testing in the bowels of Xcel Energy Center, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter will be slipping on Wild sweaters for the first time in front of flashing cameras and probing reporters.

If anything, witnessing such bells and whistles -- plus the excitement that will come when the 45 youngsters see Parise and Suter visit the locker room for the first time -- can only give these aspiring NHLers, who all hope to share the Wild ice with them someday, extra motivation.

"This is going to be a fun, exciting camp -- the most exciting since I've been here," said Assistant General Manager Brent Flahr, who was hired away from the Ottawa Senators to be Chuck Fletcher's right-hand man in July 2009. "We have some competition -- finally."

Fletcher and Flahr have worked to upgrade the Wild's depth the past few years. With an influx of top prospects, the Wild executives say that for the first time, when training camp begins in September, NHL players will have legitimate competition from prospects challenging for spots.

Those could include first-round picks Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle and Jonas Brodin and second-round picks Johan Larsson, Brett Bulmer and Jason Zucker.

This means the NHLers "will have to earn their spots," Fletcher said, "which is different than what's happened here in the past."

First impressions

If one of the youngsters proves in training camp that he is one of the top 12 forwards or six defensemen, Fletcher says he will find a way to get him on the team. Training camp is two months away, but the process of impressing the people who matter begins this week in development camp.

There will be daily practices, two scrimmages, which are free and open to the public Thursday (7 p.m.) and Sunday (11 a.m.), power-skating and stickhandling instruction, nutrition classes, weight training and leadership training.

They will even learn about being smart with social media, like, "Keep them off Twitter," Flahr joked.

There will be plenty of fun, too. Monday, the prospects will have dinner at a house on Lake Minnetonka, where they can swim, go boating and play lawn games. Later this week, they will go paintballing.

"It's all about bonding," Flahr said.

Plenty of promise

Granlund, a dazzling Finnish star, and Coyle, a prototypical power forward acquired in the Brent Burns trade last summer, are rated by most as the Wild's best two prospects, with most considering Granlund as a lock to make the team next season.

But Flahr told the coaching staff that "I'm not sure a couple others won't force us to make big decisions."

"Like, I'm a big Johan Larsson fan," Flahr said of Sweden's captain for the recent gold medal-winning world junior team. "He's a pit bull. He's skilled. He loves the corner. He loves to compete. He's played a couple years pro in Sweden, so he's physically and mentally more advanced than some of the other guys. We call him the 'Grumpy Swede' because he's not your typical, easy-going Swede. He plays with a lot of fire.

"Bulmer's game is significantly better than even when he got his [nine-game] look last year. Zucker thinks he should play in the NHL, too. Wait 'til the fans get to see Brodin.

"We have a few guys that will come in here and make things interesting. It won't be easy. But I don't think any [of the NHLers] should be feeling too comfortable."

Blue line competition

The Wild blue line already consists of Suter, Tom Gilbert, Marco Scandella, Jared Spurgeon, Clayton Stoner, Justin Falk and Nate Prosser.

But Flahr says there's a definite opportunity for Brodin, a 2011 first-round pick, to make the team.

Brodin doesn't even turn 19 until Thursday, but he impressed in both the world juniors and world championships for Sweden.

"I don't think there's anything he can't do at a high level," Flahr said. "The way he thinks the game and the way he skates and the way he moves the puck, I think just playing with better players is going to help him."

At last year's development camp, the Wild signed Brodin. Flahr will talk to Matt Dumba's agent, Craig Oster, again in the near future, but there's no rush in signing him.

Flahr isn't putting any expectations on Dumba, the Wild's first-round pick this year, but the offensive-minded, hard-hitting defenseman "is coming in here intent on making the team," Flahr said. "This camp is shaping up to be real exciting."

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